I've been taking a bit of a blogging break, partly because of the holidays, but also because I've been reluctant to weigh in on the situation in Gaza. Not that I don't have opinions - it just seems like too much of an effort to try to appear to be unbiased when I'm not feeling unbiased at all. But I suppose I can't avoid it forever.
To start, I would like to say how disappointed I was with Michael Ignatieff's statement on Gaza. To condemn only Hamas without even acknowledging Israel's culpability both before and during this current conflict was particularly spineless, even for Ignatieff. Sadly, this is exactly the sort of thing we've come to expect from him - it's just a shame that he's now making these sorts of evasive, apologist statements on behalf of the Liberal Party of Canada.
Not everyone is busy tap-dancing, however. Today, the BBC cuts through a lot of the bullshit with a surprisingly dispassionate analysis of the murky question of what is and is not being considered a legitimate military target in Gaza.
The bloodied children are clearly civilians; men killed as they launch rockets are undisputedly not. But what about the 40 or so young Hamas police recruits on parade who died in the first wave of Israel's bombing campaign in Gaza?
And weapons caches are clearly military sites – but what about the interior ministry, hit in a strike that killed two medical workers; or the money changer's office, destroyed last week injuring a boy living on the floor above?
As the death toll mounts in Gaza, the thorny question is arising of who and what can be considered a legitimate military target in a territory effectively governed by a group that many in the international community consider a terrorist organisation.
This is also the group that won the Palestinian legislative elections in January 2006 and a year later consolidated its control by force.
...International law’s rules on keeping civilian casualties to a minimum are based on the distinction between "combatants" and "non-combatants".
As Israel launched the first air strikes, outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said: "You - the citizens of Gaza - are not our enemies. Hamas, Jihad and the other terrorist organisations are your enemies, as they are our enemies."
But when an Israeli military spokesman also says things like "anything affiliated with Hamas is a legitimate target," things get complicated.
The International Committee of the Red Cross - guardian of the Geneva Conventions on which international humanitarian law is based - defines a combatant as a person "directly engaged in hostilities".
But Israeli Defence Forces spokesman Benjamin Rutland told the BBC: "Our definition is that anyone who is involved with terrorism within Hamas is a valid target. This ranges from the strictly military institutions and includes the political institutions that provide the logistical funding and human resources for the terrorist arm."
And the money quote:
As Fred Abrahams, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch puts it: "Even if you have a legitimate target you can’t just drop 10-tonne bombs on it."
Meanwhile, the CBC is also showing a little spine. I just finished watching Suhana Meharchand call bullshit on Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Ofir Gendelman when he tried to claim that there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. She quoted the heads of CARE and other NGOs who have said otherwise and asked if he was calling them liars. Nice.
So what do I think? I think that, ultimately, it doesn't matter what I think. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is too complex and too intractable to be solved by a bunch of bloggers and pundits. I do think we need to speak up - loudly - when obvious violations of human rights and international law are being perpetrated by either side, but any long-term solution is ultimately up to the people of Israel and Palestine.
The only thing that gives me hope is remembering other seemingly insoluble conflicts in places like South Africa and Northern Ireland, that just seemed to end of their own accord one day after decades of violence and stalemate. Sure there were treaties and accords and ceasefires, but those had been made all along and broken dozens of times before without bringing a final end to the violence.
Looking back on it, it seems to me that two factors were key. One was simple weariness, as though the two sides simply tired of fighting one another and decided it was no longer worth the trouble. The other was the integration of former enemies - even those previously branded as 'terrorists' - into the government. The ANC, Sinn Fein, even the Parti Quebecois are examples of supposedly radical factions being elected to govern and, almost overnight, becoming peace-loving, moderate bureaucrats.
I believe this could have happened to Hamas after their election as the legitimate government of the Palestinian Authority. However, the stubborn refusal of Israel and the United States to recognize that government and their subsequent transformation of Gaza into a virtual prison camp, has made that transition all but impossible.
People don't stop fighting because of treaties and accords. They stop fighting when they no longer have a reason to fight and, more importantly, when they have an investment in the peaceful governance of their own lives.
UPDATE: Big H/T to skdadl for introducing us to Eva, who is blogging direct from Gaza as she travels with medics caring and transporting the wounded and the dead.
Skdadl's right - stop reading all us armchair bloviators and go read In Gaza.